Note: This doesn't spoil the story at all, narrative wise, we are 100% spoiler free. However, if you are already playing and having fun it may spoil the game.
After just reaching the credits of Cyberpunk 2077 I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper before everything changes. Before the patches arrive and either fix or don't fix what this game currently is, before my nostalgia for the big moments overrides the issues I had while I went through the game. If you are only here to hear my overall thoughts on this game it's this: it's a beautiful cyberpunk narrative which is inside one of the most shallow open world of broken player promises I have ever seen, made with the blood sweat and tears of their overworked dev team.
First, I should address what exactly I got done in this game. My original intention was to do as much as I could, and for a while I was clearing every single dot off the map. However, for reasons I'm about to state below, I lost my heart in completing this task. Instead what I set myself was the task of completing every side quest, and every side gig I could find of interest. This meant I dealt with, for example, all the cyberpsychos, all the tarot cards, all the brawls and every character's story, but I stopped at that point. My play time is marked as 50 hours (and my save file is 7.56mb, cutting it close).
Let's address the primary issue at hand here, the lack of polish. This has been covered enough by so many other people that I don't really need to go into details, bug compilations cover the internet right now showing all kinds of issues from cars falling from the sky, missing textures, everything you can think of. In all fairness, some bugs are expected in something this big, and personally these are the least of the games crimes.
The shallowness on the other hand is almost disheartening.
The majority of the side gigs are incredibly simple break ins or murders that don't really require anything more. They would be completely ignorable if it wasn't for the random ones that really stand out, quests like Machine Gun and Coin Operated Boy are nice fun encounters that are worth checking out but just dots on the map until you do.
The gangs within the city mean next to nothing, there is no faction reputation, they are equipped with different weaponry and have different voice lines, but in combat you don't notice any real difference between them. They stand out more within quest lines than they do as the owners of an area. It came to the point where any interaction with a gang on the street was exactly the same, there was no difference.
The NPCs on the street are flawed to the point of immersion breaking. Pedestrians spawn and despawn when you turn around, and sometimes even in front of you, making it hard to believe in this world. Their designs, voice lines and animations do not stand up to constant surveillance, almost immediately breaking any immersion you had. This is even more noticeable when you end up in a conversation in a public place, and there's just one NPC you can't stop watching.
Cars, as has been well publicized, change the second you turn around or lose view. Which means that that experience you would have in any other open world game of seeing a cool car and wanting to steal it is moot as giving chase means you can't look away or let them go behind anything. While this doesn't really give you too much trouble in moment to moment gameplay, there is a specific set of quests that ask you to race where if you watch your minimap you can see every car behind you teleport in and out of exisitance on a vague pather behind you (try spinning your camera during that race to see the poor NPCs suddenly freak out over all existing in the same hit box). Objects are essentially schrodinger's cat the second they go in the box.
And the promises, those poor broken promises. Everything I have said so far was revealed pretty quickly, everyone knows that these are issues, the game doesn't pretend otherwise. But, within the game they promise systems and interactions that don't exist. A key example of this is the non-lethal takedowns.
Early on in the game it shows you how to sneak up on enemies and do a stealth attack, offering you the ability to kill or non-lethally put down an enemy. It hints that you may have to deal with not killing an enemy in the future, if that's what you decide to do. Hell, it offers you weapons, techniques and mods for taking down enemies non lethally, promising that style of playthrough that games like Metal Gear Solid have offered for years.
Here's the thing though, non-lethal damage and take downs don't really… do anything. For the most part this is entirely ignorable, but there are a series of side gigs to take down enemies suffering from digital overloads called Cyberpsychos. The quest giver stresses how important it is to bring these enemies in alive, as she wishes to study them. They can't be taken down with a stealth non-lethal attack, they are hugely damaging, the game builds it up to give you this 'challenge'.
But, if you use lethal damage, nothing changes. The quest text says you managed to 'take them alive'.
Once you notice this, it's clear how many times this happens, people you are meant to bring in for questioning just happen to fall down, or there is a cutscene where you punch them out, or something similar.
And then once you notice this one issue, and you no longer believe everything the game tells you, that's where the cracks really start to show. Things like the tips on the loading screen telling you you can reduce your fall damage with perks, which is irrelevant because to avoid people using double jump to stop fall damage they auto kill you if you fall a certain distance without touching the floor. Things like all enemies in races stopping ahead to help you catch up, making the race moot. Things like police at crime scenes literally just have the 'hostile area' AI applied to them, making them act like any other gang. Things like them simulating time passing, but not really, people say they will call in a day but it almost seems random when they do, and sometimes the skip time button doesn't trigger it at all. Things like that amazing promise to let you customise your character to be trans in the end meaning nothing at all since in world you just wear underwear anyway, hell even during sex scenes it just defaults the model (I only noticed this in one scene, granted).
(Also I have to note while I mention the trans stuff, it's fucking horrific that the two gay character require both the gendered body and gendered voice. So if you decided to play with mixing those settings to try and match how you feel, congrats you can no longer romance either gay character.)
These broken promises litter the game, and as soon as you step outside side and main missions the cracks widen. This is made worse by strange choices in game mechanics.
Why when on a phone call does my double jump stop working? I have gotten a call mid jump between buildings and just fallen to my death because of this issue
Why do some sections when travelling with a companion can I not jump at all? Hell, why can I randomly not run in some of them?
Why does fast travel accept a drag as a click on fast travel points, throwing me into an area that I didn't want to go to?
Why is change TV channel context sensitive bound to 1 and 2, meaning that if I accidentally hit 3 when changing channels I pull out my other weapon. And why are the linked surveillance cameras on 1 and 3 instead?
Why does skipping dialogue sometimes skip a long animation, and other times I have to sit through the animation before I can get to the next line of dialogue?
Why can I open my vehicle menu and summon every vehicle I have, causing them to all want to move towards me, and create an accidental battle royale?
Why did you create a crafting system that gives me infinite resources? Cans cost next to nothing and can be disassembled for 10 times their worth, and most craftables disassemble for more items than it costs to make them, giving you the ability to make any item in the game for free.
Why tie the crafting options so heavily to previous weapons? The Black unicorn katana is the strongest katana in the game, and you get it for free when you start. But if you ever accidentally sell or dissemble it (and you will be doing a lot of selling and dissembling due to carrying capacity), you can just… never make the good version. There's no way to recover it.
It almost feels like in effort to put in all the parts of a game that an open world game 'should' have, they spread themselves to thin, leaving not enough time to really complete the experience and leaving half baked ideas scattered across the map.
In any other game it would be next to impossible to separate this from the rest of the game, the distraction would be way too much to be able to continue enjoying this. But the story…
Personally I am a massive fan of the Cyberpunk genre, I have gone out of my way to read as much of it as I can. I played competitive Netrunner for quite a while, in 2017 I was ranked seventh in the QLD regionals. I. Love. Cyberpunk.
And this game, it doesn't disappoint in that regard. The stories of corporations just doing what they want because it gives them power both paints a rich cyberpunk world and mimics the dystopian ideals that people see in modern day corporations. The stories about AI, implants and cyberware make you question the idea of what it means to truly be human and alive, albiet this is more evident in the side quests than it is within in the main story. Cyberpunk 2077 hits all of these nails right on the head at least once in a playthrough, and when it does it is laden with emotion, style and intelligence. That's... not to say it offered some interesting ideas about what these mean though. It presents you with a situation that makes you think about these ideas and then just carries on its merry way. It's more like the pulpy nature of Snow Crash rather than the thoughtful world of something like Soma, and that's not a bad place to be, just don't expect more.
Even outside of those Cyberpunk ideals, the narrative manages to create complex characters, talk about law enforcement and their interactions with sex workers. It's smart, it's thought provoking, and it's full of such emotion that I cried multiple times during the game (this is coming from someone who cried at the end of Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit so take that with a grain of salt). Character deaths, injustices, they just hit that hard.
Side missions like Delamain's taxi company, the Peralez couple, River and Judy's character quests, the Heroes mission at the start of act 2, they all stick with you heavily, leaving you thinking about what you just saw. They have the power to keep you emotionally involved well after the mission complete pops up on the left of the screen. They are just written that well.
However, immersion and the enjoyment that comes with it require you to be invested. You need that rich presence and flow to involve yourself that deeply in the game, and all the previously mentioned issues clash with that.
I do remember how I felt for the first 10 hours, that feeling where I hadn't seen the cracks yet. Act 1 was a glorious experience, and it's one I'm never going to be able to repeat. I peeked behind the curtain and saw there was nothing there.
So what does this come down to? Management. The talent is more than evident in the game, the visuals and narrative especially just absolutely floor me, even if the design itself is fundamentally flawed.
Personally, I believe that this game must have been mishandled, and this is evident in the studio's marketing and handling of PR in general. From terrible transphobia on their twitter and press releases, to overworking their staff, this all screams of talented people working in a company that doesn't deserve their talent.
Hell, all of those broken promises speak volumes when matched with what the company promised the players the game would be. If you look back to early trailers, originally in character creation you would choose a series of options to customise the background of your character in order to build your own history. This was then cut down to three options, which would change the fundamental way the game treated the player. What we have now is just a different first 30 minutes and a dozen dialogue options that make no change to the story-line.
In the end, Cyberpunk 2077 is something that I am glad I played, it lived up to what I wanted from a Cyberpunk story, hell it exceeded my expectations. These writers should get awards and recognition for their work, and the development team should have gotten another year to work on it.